Why English is Important in Africa

To provide answer to the question, why English is important in Africa, the origin of the language along African history must be checked. Obviously, English was introduced to Africa with the arrival of Europeans as slave traders and colonizers. Despite the departure of Europeans after independence, English has since then remained in the continent and today it is used as one of the official or working languages in Africa.

Without argument, English is the language of science, aviation, computers, diplomacy and tourism. Last but not least, it is the language of international communication, the media and the internet. Whether it is for professional or personal reasons, understanding the importance of English will help you reach your goals.

Officially, English is the first choice of foreign language in most other countries of the world, and it is that status that has given it the position of a global lingua franca. It is estimated that about a third of the world’s population, some two billion persons, now use English.

Why English is Important in Africa

Let us then analyze some of the reasons why English is important in Africa and why it is not dead despite the challenges and attempts of several culturally oriented and ethnocentric ideas of African scholars and writers to suppress the domineering tendencies of the language:

Working Language Of Africa

English is largely taking hold in Africa. While British colonizers were only a single player in Europe’s scramble for the continent in the 1880s, English is on its way to become one of the major, if not the major, languages spoken in the region.

The vestiges of other European languages are slowly losing traction, and English learning is being enforced in the education system. Given this trend, English is fast becoming the working language of Africa.

A procedural language, or commonly known as the working language, is regarded with its unique legal status of being a primary means of communication. Where it is recognized, other languages exist but a working knowledge is a primary means of daily correspondence and conversation.

For instance in the African Union, given that it is composed of 54 member states, English is one of the four official languages alongside Arabic, French and Portuguese, and it is the only most spoken foreign language on the soil of Africa.

However, a working language does not guarantee that it is the official language. Regardless of the distinction, language plays a distinct role in the conduct of business and personal affairs.

Read Also: The Status of English Language in Africa

English Overriding Other Languages In Africa

English has become the second language of everybody where almost any part of the world considers its knowledge as being educated. By 2050, researchers estimate that almost half of the world’s population will know how to speak English.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 26 of the countries have English as one, if not the only, official language. On the other hand, French is on a decline, having been once a major language in the continent. Former French colonies have been switching to English as a medium of instruction their education systems, with rough estimates that in two decades time, French would no longer be spoken in Africa.

Africa Considers English As A Language For National Identity

Lastly, English is perceived as an impartial language. With its largely colonial past, languages of formers colonizers are ascribed with a degree of negative value. Rwanda, for instance, has changed its language of instruction from French to English in 2008 as an attempt to break away from its colonial past.

French is linked with Belgium, France and Rwanda’s genocide past. Changing their language of instruction gave them an opportunity to modify their national identity.

English Provides More Opportunities In Africa

In a study conducted by Linguistics professor Hywel Coleman, he addressed the instrumentality of English in Africa’s development. English plays a role on four key areas that include employability, international mobility, access to information and tool for unlocking development opportunities, and the perceived impartiality of the language.

English is an essential tool for commerce and the conduct of business. With the West expanding its reach in Africa, having a labor force that speaks the language of the investors will be of great help. Granted that investors come from all corners of the globe, the use of English as a common medium facilitates negotiation skills and marketing of products.

The influx of tourists to African destinations also made learning the language as a necessity. As seen in these examples, knowing how to speak English potentially increases a person’s employability.

While the issue of mobility in Africa often evokes images of people afloat the Mediterranean Sea, knowledge of English also contributes on the international mobility of Africans. As the primary language of academia, a large portion of academic publications are written in this language.

English Language Is A Tool To Foreign Scholarships In Africa

Knowing how to speak the language increases the probability of being admitted to foreign universities. This gives them an advantage of gaining skills and knowledge abroad which they can, ideally, bring back to their home countries and contribute to development.

On the other end of the mobility question, those who are locally educated and has the capability to use the language gives them an incentive to move out of the country to seek employment.

While this has also admittedly contributed to the brain drain problem of Africa, African governments are slowly building mechanisms to reintegrate their diaspora, whether physically or not, to their own societies.

Leave a Reply